Surprise sale of Rice Univ. radio station angers students

TEXAS — Rice University is in the process of selling itsstudent-run radio station for nearly $10 million, drawing protests from studentsand listeners.

Rice and the prospective buyer, the University of Houston, announced Aug.17 the sale of the broadcast license and tower currently used by radio stationKTRU. Under the plan, Rice’s station would continue to stream online, and UHwould use the FM frequency for a classical music station.

No one at the station was told about the sale until 12 hours before theUniversity of Houston Board of Regents voted to approve it, said ProgramDirector Joey Yang.

“The university (Rice) timed this specifically to try and do it during thesummer while the students were away from campus, in my opinion,” Yangsaid.

The station’s staff is trying to rally the support of students andlisteners. About 4,315 people have signed a petition to stop the sale, Yangsaid. The group held a public forum earlier this week, which universityadministrators declined to attend.

In a news release, Rice officials said the sale is not the end of KTRU, butthat it made financial sense for the university.

“[I]t became clear that the radio tower and 50,000-watt frequency servedvery few people,” according to the release. “Because of Internet technology,KTRU can continue to serve its audience through, while the university applies theproceeds from the sale to programs and services that will serve more people andhelp achieve the university’s aspirations.”

In addition to the $9.5 million sale price, Rice would receive paid radiointernships for its students valued at $432,000, according to a summary of theagreement presented to the UH regents. The regents later voted to approve thesale.

The two schools have not set a date to finalize terms of the sale, a UHspokesman said, adding that negotiations are ongoing. Committees at Rice arealready holding meetings to discuss how proceeds from the sale will be spent,Yang said.

Rice students have operated KTRU since it went on the air in 1971. Thestation’s general manager, Will Robedee, is a university employee, but studentsmake the programming decisions. Though the broadcast license was issued to RiceUniversity, Yang said interest from students prompted the school to apply for itin the first place.

“It is technically the university’s property but there was the implicitagreement that the university held the transmitter and our FCC license in trustof the students,” he said.

The Federal Communications Commission must approve the sale once thepaperwork is filed. Peter Doyle, head of the FCC’s Audio Division, said theagency must provide 30 days for interested parties to submit petitions about thesale.

“We grant complete, grantable and unopposed applications in less than 60days,” Doyle said by e-mail. “Contested applications take between 4 and 8months, depending on complexity and available resources.”

Yang said KTRU staff will submit comments with the FCC but have not decidedwhether to file a formal petition asking the agency to deny the sale.

“There would be no frequency to sell and no transmitter to sell if itweren’t for the initiative and energy of Rice students,” according to thestaff’s “Save KTRU” website. “Whatever Rice’s legal rights are, whatit’s doing is wrong.”

A Rice spokesman confirmed that no sale date had been set, but did notrespond to requests for further comment.